Joy, guilt, triumph, sorrow, happiness: Squamish's Lisa Duncan's memoir touches on all these emotions and more.
Chasing Africa: Fear Won’t Find Me Here — A Memoir, published by Rocky Mountain Books, will officially be released at the beginning of November.
The story chronicles Duncan's life-changing trip to Africa 26 years ago — pre-Google Maps and the internet.
It took her fighting back against voices in her head to go at all.
She overcame the self-inflicted guilt of leaving her family despite her dad’s and her brother’s neurological diseases: Parkinson’s and progressive multiple sclerosis.
The four month-adventure marked a reclaiming of her adventurous spirit.
She climbed dunes in Namibia and paddled down the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe.
She hiked the Chimanimani mountains in Zimbabwe and visited with locals on the island of Likoma in Malawi.
The Squamish Chief sat down with Duncan for a chat about her book and what she hopes for her own daughter.
What follows is an edited version of that conversation.
Tell me a bit more about what led you to write Chasing Africa. What made you want to write it?
The 20-year mark of the trip came up. I was on mat leave. Obviously, I was focused on my daughter as well. But I had this epiphany or something. My dad had passed away, and a lot of things had happened. That kind of allowed me to reflect on this amazing trip of a lifetime. And at the same time, I was having this new adventure with my daughter.
It was kind of like forging two adventures of a lifetime into one story.
I was doing a little bit of writing on my own, but I lived in a world where you didn't dare call yourself a writer.
Then I had an experience with The Creative Academy's Donna Barker and Eileen Cook, both authors.
They had a workshop at the library here in Squamish in 2018. I went, and what they said really resonated with me.
I went back to talk to Donna because I just felt like we had a natural connection, and she ended up being my developmental mentor.
And then, just kind of like my Africa journey, all these strangers came into my life who kind of helped me along the way.
There is a struggle in your book between going and staying; can you delve into that a bit?
The struggle was that my dad and brother had been sick for five years.
I was the youngest and left home the first. I had always seen myself travelling, going overseas, going to school, maybe in a different province. When I was 18, going on 19, that's when my dad first got sick and then the same year, my brother.
I had just come back from living in Japan as an exchange student.
Before, I had never felt compelled to stay home because of family and then a year after I came back after their diagnosis, I started to feel that really heavy guilt about going away. Then, I was scared to leave, right?
I went on little trips nearby but felt like I needed to go home and visit and be there for my mom because she was looking after both of them.
With their illnesses, there wasn't really anything I could do. There's no cure. So I was just being a distraction for my mom. I was just hanging out.
And I didn't like what I was seeing in myself. I didn't want to be that person: scared and afraid to leave. And so I'd always thought I'd one day travel, especially to Southern and East Africa.
I just decided I have to do this. I was 24 at the time. I knew if I didn't do this, then my life was going to be compromised.
Who do you see as your audience for this book?
Anyone interested in adventure and solo travel as a woman — pre-internet, pre-Google Maps.
Anyone who might understand what it's like to have to watch a family member decline and not know what to do about it; anyone who has dealt with guilt for other reasons. People who kind of have a dream, and they're too scared to follow through.
I am sure when you came back from your trip, what you found amazing about the trip back then is different from what you appreciate about it now. What stands out for you now about the whole experience of visiting different countries in Africa?
I went there thinking I was this adventurous kind of solitary person — which in some ways, I am. I'll mountain bike and hike on my own and not be lonely or anything — but really, it became the people that I met there who stood out.
It was like, 'Oh, actually, I keep meeting people, and they're probably coming into my life, my trip, for a reason. So that I'm not experiencing it on my own.'
That was interesting.
I was homeless one night in a small little town, and this woman invited me in and let me sleep in her bed, and fed me beef stew.
And also, what I learned was I can't compare my life to other people who seem to have adventures all over the world all the time.
I've gotten other gifts that have come into my life.
I have done quite a bit of travelling since then, but not to the same extent. And I'm OK with that.
I admire people who travel alone like you did and do. I am always afraid of getting sick on my own somewhere far from home. You didn't worry about that?
I was in the hospital in Malawi. I got dysentery. That was pretty bad. It was painful, like more painful than childbirth.
But I was so unbelievably impressed with the hospital and the nurses, and the doctors. They had excellent, excellent health care. I was so well treated.
A lot of us grew up with racist tropes about Africa, did anything come as a shock to you visiting the different countries you did?
As foreigners growing up, in National Geographic or movies, what they tend to show is the savanna and the animals. They kind of have this generic umbrella of what Africa is like.
There had been that famine in Ethiopia that everyone here knew about, but that is not the whole continent. I knew the history before I went. I knew a lot about apartheid. And I knew about different regions of South Africa, where I started. I knew that pretty much all but two countries were colonized.
What do you hope your young daughter learns from your book or from the fact of you writing it?
She has asked to read it, but I told her it is for grown-ups. She's funny. She said, 'Mom, next time, maybe you can write a book on when you lived in Japan.'
I would never want her to feel obligated or guilty. To put her dreams off for reasons that stem from guilt or obligation. I want her to be wise and adventurous, which she is.
Will you write another book?
I am in the Whistler Writer in Residence program with author Shaena Lambert. I'm working with her and five other writers. I'm doing some shorter pieces: the things that happened after Africa, especially as my dad and my brother declined. Some of it is humorous, and a lot of it's pretty serious because, obviously, when I came back, they only got worse. So pieces about coping with that.
Find Chasing Africa: Fear won't find me here at rmbooks.com/book/chasing-africa, and at Armchair Books in Whistler.
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